That had to be the last thing on your mind five weeks ago when the Falcons took a 40-14 lead against the Bucs on Thursday Night Football. After Tampa Bay fell to 3-5, you might have even spent your college football Saturday scouting potential draft picks.
No one saw a four-game winning streak coming. Such turnarounds are rare occurrences.
Since 1990, which is when the NFL expanded the playoff field to 12 teams, 13 teams started 3-5 and reached the postseason. That averages out to one team every other season.
If that doesn't seem all that rare, consider this: 137 teams started 3-5 and failed to reach the postseason. So, 91 percent of teams that started 3-5 couldn't extend their seasons.
The Bucs have never made the playoffs after starting 3-5. They have, however, made the playoffs after a 4-4 start six times, most recently in 2007.
Tampa Bay has a 47 percent chance of reaching the postseason, according to Football Outsiders. It has a 21 percent chance of winning the NFC South and a 26 percent chance of earning a wild-card spot.
In recent seasons, a 3-5 start has not been the obstacle it once was. Three teams recovered last season — the Texans, Chiefs and Washington. The NFL's realignment to eight four-team divisions is part of the explanation. The 2008 Chargers, 2011 Broncos and 2015 Texans reached because they played in weak divisions.
Say the Bucs make the playoffs. Could they make some noise? Let's just say it's too early to look into flights to Houston for Super Bowl LI. Eight of the 13 3-5 teams to reach the postseason lost in the first round and another four lost in the next. The team that got the farthest: the 1996 Jaguars, who in their second season in the NFL, played in the AFC championship game. They lost to the Patriots 20-6.
Teams that started 3-5 and reached the playoffs (since 1990)
|1990 Saints||8-8||Lost in wild card round|
|1994 Patriots||10-6||Lost in wild card round|
|1995 Lions||10-6||Lost in wild card round|
|1996 Jaguars||9-7||Lost conference championship|
|2002 Jets||9-7||Lost in divisional round|
|2008 Chargers||8-8||Lost in divisional round|
|2011 Broncos||8-8||Lost in divisional round|
|2012 Bengals||10-6||Lost in wild card round|
|2012 Washington||10-6||Lost in wild card round|
|2013 Eagles||10-6||Lost in wild card round|
|2015 Texans||9-7||Lost in wild card round|
|2015 Chiefs||11-5||Lost in divisional round|
|2015 Washington||9-7||Lost in wild card round|
Contact Thomas Bassinger at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @tometrics.